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Saturday, June 17, 2006

Small Travel Things

I was in the NYC area several weeks ago. Alas, alone. Jenny had a business to run. I decided to try the U.S. Helicopter service posted by Elle here. So I arranged to fly into JFK and transfer over to their terminal, and having my driver meet me at the heliport in Manhattan rather than driving me over the river and through the woods.

I mentioned in the comments to Elle's post that given the $159 they were charging for the flight the helicopters were probably used and old. Indeed, rather than the modern Sikorsky S92, they were using the S76, and not even the D version. While these were considered excellent corporate helicopters, that was at least fifteen years ago. The S76D and S92s are far quieter.

But the price was very reasonable, so I should not complain. They are new and had a few startup problems with reservations, but the staff were very earnest and friendly.

I was the only passenger on the helicopter.

My experience suggests a few things to consider, if you are contemplating using the service:

U.S. Helicopter departs from the new American Airlines terminal at JFK. The terminal is very nice and surely is very convenient if you are flying on American Airlines and arriving in the same terminal (NB: there are two terminals that American Airlines flights fly into at JFK.) If you are not, however, you have to go through security again. On the other hand, they have TSA staff at the downtown Manhattan heliport, so if you are flying from the Heliport to JFK, and then departing out of the new American terminal, you can speed your way through security at the heliport and skip security at JFK. Much faster.

The helicopter landing pad is outdoors. You have to walk to it. If the weather is not good, you will go through the weather. So will your luggage. This was not a problem for me, fortunately.

There is cabin noise. Although it is much quieter than a typical helicopter, it is loud. You can have a conversation in the cabin... if you shout. U.S. Helicopter does not provide ear plugs in the cabin. You may want to bring some.

Other than these issues the 10 minute flight itself was fine. The views are great, and the altitude is almost ideal for sightseeing over Governor's Island and the Statue of Liberty. For downtown business meetings the landing area is extremely convenient.

Something else I discovered when I had to go through the metal detectors at JFK: my damned titanium American Express cards set off the metal detectors! I guess the cards really are made for people who don't have to fly commercial jets.

And while I am on small things, I also picked up a Motorola Q, the thin PDA that runs Windows Mobile 5. As a phone I found the quality better than my Treo 600, 650 and 700s. The PDA user interface is sufficiently different from Palm that it drives me crazy, but I am sure I will get used to it. It is Windows, so it crashes more than the 600, but not as much as my 650. The default synchronization software is slow, as is the device in general. Taking a photograph, for example, has a maddening delay. The battery life is short. The build quality was not as high as I had hoped, though it is higher than the Treo. It is not available on GSM in the US yet, but then again, GSM does not seem to work that well in many places in the US. The screen is good, and readable in direct sunlight. And it looks cool.

So the Q is not a home run; about par with the 700p. But due to the size I might keep it.

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